Ask The Expert: Do You Really Need A Recovery Week?
September 30, 2015
Recovery/transition training weeks are built into most Beachbody programs that are longer than 8 weeks. What their purpose is, and whether or not you can skip them, is a common theme. Considering this is the BODathon training program’s recovery week, and that I’m getting asked about it, it seems like a good time to go into the answer in depth.
The short answer is no. And yes. They’re essential, but there are times when you may want to postpone them and prolong the schedule you’re on.
Why Recovery Weeks Are Important All training programs are based around a theory called The Specificity of Adaptation. (It’s a theory in name only. When it comes to physical training it’s a law.) When you submit your body to stimulus, over time your body adapts to that stimulus and its effect on your body starts to wane.
If you’ve read the Muscle Confusion section of a P90X guide you’ve seen The Specificity of Adaptation explained, but it’s the same for any and all exercise programs. As your body adapts to new exercise, results accelerate, and once adapted, they decline. The P90X guide describes this phased process as adapting, mastery, and plateauing.
At the point of the plateau, in order to keep improving, you need to either add more stimulus (in the form of weight, speed, and/or intensity) or change your workout routine. If you’re training at your maximum, you’ve likely already done the former, so you do the latter. This is commonly known as training in blocks, where each block is designed to maximize the adapt and mastery phases of the cycle, and then transition prior to the plateau (since the term plateau means your results curve has flattened).
In a perfect world, you could simply alter your training from one block to the next, and your progression would be ever increasing. In reality, our adaptive response to training is fickle. We rarely know exactly when we should move from block to block, and more often than not, we make our changes later than we should, which can lead to a regressive state known as overtraining.
Once your body is in an overtrained state, it can take a long time to recover. So long in fact, that it’s possible to offset the results of an entire period of training. To try and prevent this, we build recovery cycles into Beachbody programs because they ensure the body is rested and ready for the next block of training.
Can I Ever Postpone a Recovery Week? In P90X, there is a recovery/transition week every three weeks, even though The Specificity of Adaptation shows it takes at least three, and usually closer to six weeks to adapt to a training block. By the end of those three weeks, your body may not have fully adapted. In this case you could effectively extend the block before your recovery/transition week. (The term transition is sometimes used because recovery periods aren’t always easy. More on this below).
Even though many people won’t be fully adapted in three weeks, we targeted that period of time in P90X because it’s safer. Also, we knew that doing three blocks of a similar training regimen would lead to full adaptation and very rapid results by the end of the third block. We also tested it. But the fine print in the P90X guide explains this, essentially stating, that if you feel better extending your blocks to five or six weeks, go for it.
The way to tell when you should recover is to let performance be your guide.
Performance is addictive, and can be intoxicating, but once it begins to stagnate, you’ll want to back off right away—again, sooner is always better than later.
As soon as you start feeling great and pushing your performance standards in each workout, it’s time to pay close attention and be careful. These periods are fleeting. You don’t improve forever and once you’ve peaked, it doesn’t take much to hit an overtraining plateau that can take a long time to reverse. You really want to watch yourself once you hit this point, and transition your training as soon as your peak feels as though it’s waning. If you have one bad workout, maybe it’s just a bad day. Two bad workouts, consider that your peak may be over.
It’s worth noting that bad workouts aren’t always obvious. Sometimes you feel bad when you’re doing fine. Other times it’s the reverse. This is why we ask you to write down how you’re doing and often provide you with workout performance trackers. Then you know for sure. Numbers don’t lie.
All Recovery Weeks Aren’t Equal As noted above, “recovery” periods can be hard. Most Beachbody programs have a body composition goal (changing your fat to muscle ratio) whereas the BODathon training program has an athletic goal*: to complete the BODathon and do three hard workouts back-to-back. This changes your recovery strategy.
In P90X*, the goal is to recover from the hard resistance and plyometric loads you’ve been working with. Instead of easing off, the workload switches to core, balance, and mobility training, which for some people is harder than the main blocks of training. This is an example of a recovery week that’s really a transition week.
The BODathon requires overall performance, and that requires full body recovery. If you overload too much, too soon, there is no hope that you’ll be fully recovered and able to complete the BODathon at the end. Thus, the recovery week is easier than in other Beachbody programs to ensure that you begin the final phase of your training fully rested after a “trial period” of training that is the end goal of the first block.
* There is a fit test at the end of P90X, too, but we recommend you take a recovery break before taking it.
Why Are Recovery Weeks a Week in Length?
Weeks are not a magic period of time. They are used out of convenience as most of us work on them. If you’re already using in one week microcycles (this term refers to weekly training schedules, whereas a block is called a macrocycle), it’s simplest to schedule a recovery microcycle as well. Individually, you can—and should, once you know your body—alter these to fit how you feel. In some cases, three or four days may be enough. If you’ve pushed too far towards a plateau, you may need a little longer. This is why trainers constantly ask you to listen to your body.